Food fightThe international rice market has become a war zone. Last weekend, the international rice price skyrocketed to $1,000 per ton. But even at such high prices, it is becoming increasingly difficult to secure the grain. Last year, it was the price of wheat and corn that shook the market — this year, it’s rice.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has announced that world cereal stocks are at their lowest since 1980, with enough to last only eight to 12 weeks.
This food crisis is the result of human greed. Because of climate change, cultivable land is decreasing and the frequency of droughts is increasing. Recently, trade protectionism fanned the food crisis. Rice-exporting countries such as Thailand and Vietnam began to control their rice exports to stabilize their rice prices in the face of ongoing domestic inflation, propelling a surge in international prices. To prevent food from becoming a weapon and a catastrophe such as mass hunger from developing, international cooperation is imperative. Trade protectionism will only distort prices and further deepen the crisis.
A food crisis will lead to social instability and deprive children of the opportunity to study. This may in turn lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and a weakening of world growth. The United Nations and the World Bank must therefore broker a deal. The United States should amend its bioenergy policies and China should suppress its pork demand for now. In return, rice-exporting countries should remove export embargoes.
Recently, the government announced it would secure overseas food sources. It said it would rent agricultural land in the Maritime Province of Siberia or in Cambodia on a long-term basis to provide food to both North and South Korea. If necessary, they said they would use cheap North Korean labor to cultivate those areas.
We believe this is a good, far sighted policy. We are self-sufficient when it comes to rice, but are the world’s third-largest importer of food. It is only reasonable to secure food sources abroad in view of the potential situation after reunification. However, to create such sources, we must first change our tariff policies. Because agricultural goods take time to grow, it is difficult to control their supply according to quickly changing demand. It’s easy for prices to skyrocket or dive because of surplus demand or supply. Therefore, the government should work closely with private firms in creating the food sources to avoid a dangerous situation.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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